A few weeks back we were the unfortunate victims of a crime. On a night bus from Palenque to Merida (a 10 hour bus journey through central Mexico), we had all of our electronics and money stolen from literally under our noses. This blog post will describe the unforgettable and slightly comical day we had to deal with the Mexican Authorities in order to report our incident!
The Bus Journey (through the eyes of Sam)
The journey started like any other nightbus we had been on before. Dreary eyed and tired from the day, we booked an ADO bus which left Palenque at 11pm and arrived at our next destination, Merida, at 7am. After depositing our large bags in the storage beneath the bus, we boarded.
As I sat in my seat, with our bags stowed on the floor between my feet, I felt safe in the knowledge that I was travelling on what seemed to be with a highly reputable bus company and had paid for a 1st class ticket, therfore I believed that my belongings (sandwiched between my legs) would be absolutely fine. Little did I know, a thief was lurking in the darkness.
The numerous stops (for passengers to enter & exit the bus) and the near freezing temperature of the bus (air con turned on max whether you like it or not) meant that sleep was hard to come by. The bus was pretty empty aside from the cute old lady a few seats back, two other backpackers and the odd Mexican going about their weekly Sunday night trip, ready for Monday at work.
As it started to become light outside, I awoke from one doze and tried to find my phone to check the time. As I sifted through my bag, I couldn’t find my phone. Panicking, I searched for my wallet and realized something was amiss. My wallet had been emptied of all the money we had in there. I turned to Helena (who last time I checked was sleeping in the row next to me), but she had gone, vanished!
In my groggy state, I quickly came to the conclusion that Helena had stolen my money and jumped off at a random stop, possibly with one of the many Mexican hunks who had entered the bus during the journey, I know he has a secret thing for small, tanned guys.
I got up and started searching the bus for her. As I rose, the Mexican passengers that were awake gawked at me and I’m sure I heard one boy whisper to his mum: ´Is that a giant, Mummy?´. I found her at the back of the bus, by the toilet (strange, I know), wrapped up in every layer she had. I woke my sleeping beauty in a panicked agitation, asking her if she had the phone and all the money. She didn’t. As we paced back to our seats, we realized things were much worse than initially feared. Not only had the thief got off with all our money and phone, all of our electrical items had gone. Kindles, Ipods, GoPro, etc, all vanished.
As the bus pulled up to the Merida Bus Station, Helena explained to our bus driver what had happened. Leaning against the bus about to light a cigarette, he could not have cared any less and directed us over to the security guard in the Bus Station.
Merida Bus Station (through the eyes of Helena)
As I spoke to the Security Guard (late 70´s and barely walking) in my very best Spanish, he seemed genuinely concerned. He told me to go to the ADO bus desk and report to them what had happened and they will be able to help me. Giving Sam all the bags, I rushed over to the bus desk to convers with the lady working. They told me nothing could be done and I needed to speak to the security guard. So back I went and explained this information to the security guard. He seemed to have a fantastic new idea, and took me over to the ADO Bus desk again.
After the same conversation with the lady at the desk, she directed me over to a different female security guard. Again, she seemed incredibly concerned and thought she had the solution, to speak to the ADO bus desk. As I had the conversation a third time with the ADO bus lady, she called something out over the loudspeaker in Spanish which I couldn’t understand. I waited a few moments as Sam expertly calmed me down and reminded me that the situation could be tons worse (we had our passports and bankcards after all).
The 70 something year old security guard came hobbling round the corner and asked why they had called him. The bus lady explained the situation and for the third time, he seemed concerned. But finally, he had a new plan. He told me there was a police car outside which I should go and explain the situation to. I explained to Sam the situation and left him with the bags and went to explain to the policemen outside.
As I approached the car, I didn’t notice much movement. As I got nearer, I realized the two policemen inside were asleep. Well one was semi-asleep with a newspaper on his lap and something naughty on his phone but ‘asleep’ seems like an easier term to comprehend for a working policeman!
I explained to the police men what had happened. They asked a few questions, mainly aimed at my legs rather than my face, and told me we needed to visit the ‘Fisclaria’ out of town to report the incident. They told me to grab my bags and they would take me there.
I stepped back into the police station, grabbing my bags and Sam, eager to start sorting out this mess and get checked into our hotel for a shower and to an internet café to change my internet passwords and cancel my iPhone. Seeing me with another man, the policemen said they were no longer able to drive me to the Fisclaria and instead, gave me directions to a bus stop which is where I could catch a 1.5 hour bus out of town to get there. Brilliant.
Fisclaria (through the eyes of Sam)
We headed in the general direction of where the police pointed and could not find the bus stop. After asking numerous locals, all of which had no idea what a Fisclaria was let alone where it was, we decided to hail down a taxi. He told us it was slightly out of town and it would take roughly 30 minutes to get there and cost us 150 Pesos ($8). 300 Pesos and 45 minutes later, we arrived at the Fisclaria. After a brief argument with the taxi driver (he had underestimated the fare by 100%), we realised there was nothing we could do but pay the man his money.
On arrival, we walked into this shambolic, hospital-like structure and went to the front desk (which was actually a obese woman eating a massive taco whilst flirting with an equally obese policeman, with no computer or paperwork in sight). With a huge amount of effort, she lifted her arm and pointed through another door titled ‘The Translator Office’. Despite explaining in decent Spanish, Helena could not convince the receptionist that she did not need a translator. The Translator Office was a seperate room with one woman watching videos on YouTube and another lady who couldn’t speak a word of English. We were told to go back to the main desk because they could not help us.
Back at the main desk, the receptionist was onto her second massive taco (looked like chicken with cheese sauce and a lack of veg of course). Between slurps of her Diet Coke (ironic), she told us we had to head back into the Translators Office. We headed back inside and ‘The Translator’ told us we would have to wait for the English translator, who was approximately 20km away and would only take around 45 minutes.
2 hours later, the English Translator arrived. She was incredibly friendly and when we told her what happened her response was, ‘Oh, this happens all the time. We know the driver is in on it but unfortunately can’t do much about it!’ with a big smile on her face. Interesting response considering she works for the police force. We were told to fill out a form and wait for around 30 minutes before we could go and report what happened. When filling out the form, we had a peek at the forms behind and realised that the exact same thing had happened to at least 3 other tourists, on the same bus, at the same time!
After being admitted into the police room with the translator, we explained everything that had happened and everything we had stolen in a painstakingly slow ordeal. After about 2 hours, it was all typed up and given to us. After reading over the reports, I noticed numerous spelling mistakes such as Raybans were Rybans, Kindle was Quindel and Laptop was Laktop. After raising these with the Translator, everyone had a good laugh and the editing was complete 20 minutes later.
6 hours after arriving in an overpriced taxi, we had the police reports we needed to file an insurance claim (which will inevitably be a straight forward process!). A very interesting, if somewhat slighly distressing leg of our journey but we managed to find our time with the Mexican authorities pretty humorous, albeit with slightly less gadgets and money. Nonetheless, we are both still very happy and thoroughly enjoying our travels!
What did we learn?
- If you are female, traveling with a guy, you have a far higher chance of being assisted by a male police man so chuck away the men until you no longer require police help.
- Keep your belongings inside your pants, nowhere else are they truly safe.
- Mexican police stations are great places to practice your spanish with your fellow victims.
- Set aside a minimum of 5 hours for a police station visit and don’t expect it to be like dealing with English authorities who are ridiculously organized and helpful in comparison (from our experiences!)